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Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 8.2/3 (2001) 121-132

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Meaning, Truth, and the Self:
Commentary on Campbell, and Parnas and Sass

Naomi Eilan

In different ways, the two papers by John Campbell and by Josef Parnas and Louis Sass in this issue urge us to take seriously the idea that delusions in schizophrenia manifest a "disturbance of meaning," in some loose sense of the term which would cover both approaches. For Campbell, a correct account of the disturbance illuminates the deep connection between rationality and meaning. For Parnas and Sass, it reflects the deep connection between meaning and the self. The comments that follow will touch only on a very few of the fascinating philosophical and psychological issues raised by both papers. They will be focused, initially, on some ideas to be found in Wittgenstein's On Certainty (Wittgenstein 1969), ideas that serve, I think, to bring out connections between the two papers and to highlight problems they raise, separately and in comparison with each other.

1. Consider first the following claims in Wittgenstein's On Certainty:

  1. In certain circumstances, a man cannot make a mistake. ("Can" is here used logically, and the proposition does not mean that a man cannot say anything false in those circumstances.) If Moore were to pronounce the opposite of these propositions which he declares certain, we should not just not share his opinion: we should regard him as demented. (155)
  2. Can we imagine a man who keeps on making mistakes where we would regard a mistake as ruled out and in fact never encounter one?
           E.g. he says he lives in such and such a place, is so and so old, comes from such a such a city, and he speaks with the same certainty (giving all the tokens of it) as I do, but he is wrong . . . (67)
  3. If my friend were to imagine one day that he had been living for a long time past in such and such a place, etc. etc., I should not call this a mistake, but rather a mental disturbance, perhaps a transient one. (71)
  4. But what is the difference between mistake and mental disturbance? Or, what is the difference between my treating it as a mistake and my treating it as a mental disturbance? (73)

Wittgenstein's question is directed at the difference between mistakes and "mental disturbance" in general. But it is exactly the right question to be asking when we are interested in particular in the nature of delusions. To make our discussion of the question less abstract, it will help to have before us one of the delusions that is central to Campbell's paper—the Capgras delusion. The [End Page 121] Capgras delusion, in brief, occurs when subjects maintain that people and sometimes places they know have been replaced by duplicates, where the latter claim can take various forms, e.g., that the person is a robot, inhabited by an evil spirit, or just a person pretending to be the subject's relative (for in-depth descriptions, see Davies et al. [this issue] and Campbell [this issue]). Our initial question following Wittgenstein is, then, this: What is the difference between maintaining, over time, that one's wife, say, has been replaced by an impostor, and making a simple mistake of identification? The beginnings of Wittgenstein's answer are to be found in the following suggestion:

Can we say: a mistake doesn't only have a cause, it also has a ground? I.e., when someone makes a mistake this can be fitted into what he knows aright? (Wittgenstein 1961, 74)

Wittgenstein is clearly gesturing at a categorical difference between mistakes and delusions, on which the former do, and latter do not, fall within the "space of reasons." Before seeing what exactly this comes to, for Wittgenstein, this alone suffices to introduce, by way of contrast, the essence of what Campbell calls "empiricist" approaches to the Capgras and other delusions. The general empiricist claim is that, contra Wittgenstein, delusions do fall within the space of reasons and should be...


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